May 31, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT
Getting to know… Australia
The Socceroos came into the 2014 World Cup cycle expecting to make an impact in Brazil. Reality has provided a wake up call. After back-to-back 6-0 losses to Brazil and France last year, the FFA fired Holger Osieck and appointed Melbourne Victory manager Ange Postecoglou. Expectations were reset.
With 11 players 23 or younger on his preliminary squad, the Greece-born boss is bringing along in a new generation of talent, with young attackers like Tommy Oar, Matthew Lewkie, Ben Halloran, and Tom Rogic given their chance to augment Tim Cahill. Though they’re unlikely to help Australia meet last year’s inflated expectations, the new core will gain valuable experience for Russia.
Record in qualifying
After taking Asian qualifying by storm ahead of South Africa 2010, Australia came back to earth. Though they went 5-1-0 in third round qualifying, the Socceroos won only three of eight matches in Asia’s final round. The four-point gab between themselves and Japan defined the ground they’ve lost.
Australia has the worst draw of any team at the 2014 World Cup. Defending world champions Spain and 2010 finalists the Netherlands headline the packet, while the toughest South American team that didn’t get seeded (Chile) ended up in the true Group of Death. Unfortunately, Australia’s hopes are likely to dead on arrival.
Friday, June 13 at 5 p.m. ET: Chile vs. Australia (Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)
Wednesday, June 18 at 12 noon ET: Australia vs. Netherlands (Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)
Monday, June 25 at 12 noon ET: Australia vs. Spain (Arena da Baixada, Curitiba)
Tim Cahill is both the oldest playing on Postecoglou’s preliminary roster and the player most likely to get goals, particularly with a formation change having dropped striker Joshua Kennedy. At 34, this will be the New York Red Bull’s final World Cup, one which could prove demanding as he tries to provide pressure as his team’s one striker. His talents in the air as well as his work ethic could prove valuable for a team that will have trouble retaining the ball against talented opposition.
Postecoglou is Greece-born, but he’s considered one of Australia’s own. As a five-year-old, he emigrated to Melbourne along with his family and eventually went on to make four appearances as a defender for the national team in 1986.
Ten years later, Postecoglou’s managerial career began. After debuting with South Melbourne, the now 48-year-old went on to run Australia’s U-20s before a brief spell in Greece (Panachaiki). In 2009, he was named head coach of Brisbane Roar, eventually winning back-to-back A-League titles.
Postecoglou’s transition from the now-retired Mark Schwarzer sparked a competition in goal, one that was eventually won by 22-year-old Mathew Ryan. Coming off his first full season with Club Brugge in Belgium, Ryan has the skillset to succeed at a much higher level, with interest from Spain having already been reported. He’s also a plus-distributor out of the back, something that’s of particular value as Postecoglou tried to implement a more possession-sensitive approach.
Australia may not be the worst team at the World Cup, but with the tournament’s toughest draw, they could end up in last place. The Socceroos’ best chance for a point will be against another young, transition squad: the Netherlands. Unfortunately for Australia, Louis van Gaal’s side still has the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder. It may be a long two weeks (and a short tournament) for the Socceroos.
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